George Washington at the 76

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

On Saturday, on my way back from Ellensburg, I stopped off in George to buy a quart of milk. George is 5 miles south of my camper, and despite the fact that I’d driven past the town a half dozen times, I’d never stopped there.

The cleanest looking place in town to buy milk was the 76 gas station. I pulled in and parked. That’s when I spotted the bronze bust of George Washington. Moments later, I realized I was in George, Washington. (Duh-uh.) And then I realized that the 76 (as in 1776) sign was right behind George’s head.

So I took the photo.

George in Washington

Am I the only one who thinks this whole thing is funny?

More Stupid eBay Buyers

Proof (again) that many people who buy on eBay are idiots.

A few months back, I speculated that eBay was for suckers when I reported on the condition of a “mint” condition lens I’d bought at almost retail and an auction for another lens that I passed on when the bid went more than $100 higher than the selling price on Amazon.com.

What “Mint” Really Means

According to my Mac OS X Dictionary widget, mint, when used as an adjective, means “in pristine condition; as new.” If that’s the case, then why is the term “mint,” when used on eBay, always followed up with additional describing words and phrases like “It is in mint condition, no scratches, no dust and no marks”?

Hello? Mint means mint. Like new. New items don’t have scratches or dust.

Unless, of course, you’re dealing with an eBay item.

The lens I bought that was in “mint” condition looked as if it had been on a shelf for two years. Yes, some of the dust had been wiped off, but there was enough in the cracks and crevices to tell the tale. And there was the tiniest of scratches on the lens closest to the camera body. That’s not mint.

And my husband, who recently decided that the low profile wheels that came with his used AMG weren’t quite right for Wickenburg’s dirt roads, replaced them with “mint” condition stock wheels. In the seller’s world, “mint” is an adjective that can be applied to tire rims that have obviously been scraped along a curb. No amount of polishing will get those scratches out. My husband’s good deal wasn’t such a good deal after all.

I try to use words carefully. Because of that, I would never apply the word “mint” to any item that has been used in any way. Unfortunately, I’m one of the few people who take the meaning of words like “mint” seriously.

The Price Thing Still Cracks Me Up

The other day, I bought another lens from Amazon.com — but not before I started “watching” an auction for a “4-month old,” “mint” condition lens on eBay. The auction ended a little while ago and the lens sold for $454. Add $19.95 shipping and the final price was just $5 less than I paid Amazon for a brand new lens.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth the extra $5 to get something brand new in a box, shipped by a reputable company than to get suckered in by yet another eBay seller offering “mint” merchandise that isn’t.

So the question is, don’t these eBay buyers do their homework? Don’t they realize that they can buy brand new items for less than they’re paying for [often] misrepresented used items?

Or does the excitement of the auction process get them to bid stupidly?

POV.1 Progress

I’ll get the hang of it — one of these days.

I’ve now had my new POV.1 video camera for just over a week. And I’m not too pleased with my ability to operate it yet.

Tests Runs Okay

POV.1 CameraI made a few test runs with the camera.

The first consisted of me walking around the downstairs of my house, holding the camera in my hand and narrating what I saw. This was mainly a test of the controls and sound capabilities. It produced some predictably boring yet perfectly fine quality video. So far, so good.

Next, I attached the camera to a hat and had it running when I went down to feed the horses one evening. More narration, but I was limited to where the camera pointed because it was attached to my hat and the monitor was in my pocket. I couldn’t see what the camera was really pointing at. It turned out, it wasn’t pointing at what it should have been for about 90% of the video. So while the sound test worked fine — you could certainly hear my heavy breathing as I walked back up the hill — the video was not a keeper.

Next, I decided to test the setup in the helicopter. Because running the helicopter is not what a budget-conscious individual would do unnecessarily, I wanted my test to test all systems: the camera mount, video quality, and sound. Sound was the tricky part. I couldn’t just let the mic pick up cockpit sound because that was mostly helicopter engine and rotor noise. Instead, I had to figure out a way to get just the sound I wanted — intercom and radio sounds — directly into the POV.1’s recorder.

Lapel MicThe solution was to use a tiny powered lapel mic (similar to the one shown here) that I happened to have for a cassette recorder. The mic’s pickup was small enough to fit inside my headset ear cup, dangling right over my ear. I secured it in there with a clip. Any sound that got to my ear would get to the recorder. And the Bose Generation X headset’s active noise cancellation would filter out much of the sound of the helicopter running.

[A side note here: a more permanent solution would be to get an avionics guy to install an audio out jack. I already have an audio in jack, which is standard on Robinson helicopters, and allows me to listen to my iPod while I fly. An audio out would make it possible for me (or a passenger) to connect a video camera to the helicopter's intercom system.]

I mounted the camera on the bar between the two front seats, using a mount I’d bought a year or two ago for a regular digital video camera. (That experiment had not gone well; the camera couldn’t compensate for the helicopter’s vibrations.) Then I went flying with Ed, my mechanic. We took a 14-minute flight around Vulture Peak, down to Vulture Mine, and back to the airport. Ed held the recorder unit while I flew. I used Viddler to post an edited-down version of the video. It wasn’t bad at all.

In fact, I thought I was ready for “prime time.”

Real Life Trials

My next for-hire flight was the next day. I was taking a dad, his birthday-boy son, and his son’s friend on a 50-minute flight to see the ghost towns and mines in the Wickenburg area. I figured I’d video the flight, then put the video on a DVD for the dad and his son.

[Another note here: That day, as I waited for my passengers, I met a pilot from Oregon who typically flies with three cameras on his plane. He had his laptop with him and showed me some of the video, which he'd set to music. It wasn't very exciting stuff -- not for a fellow pilot, anyway -- but he said that his non-pilot friends love it. That wouldn't surprise me at all.]

I was all set up as I had been the day before. As the helicopter warmed up, I started the recorder and placed it back on the space between the two back seats so it would be out of the way. I then did the flight. When we returned and shut down, I was surprised to see that the recorder was turned off. I figured it had run out of space on the SD card. But when I brought it inside, I was embarrassed to see that it had only recorded 41 seconds of video. The power button must have been hit after I put it down.

Dang! No video for my clients.

Anxious to get some real video to send them, Mike and I went out again with Mike’s mom. This time, I turned the camera on and locked its controls to prevent an accidentally pushed button from shutting it off.

I managed to capture 80+ minutes of video and sound. The only problem was, Mike’s mom’s profile or hands or shoulders are in every shot. In attempting to capture what was out the window in front of her, I managed to capture a bit too much of her. And 80+ minutes of partially blocked views, much of which are of boring open desert, really isn’t very interesting to anyone. Here’s a tiny bit I extracted and set to music.

On Wednesday, I took another client “heli shopping” down in Scottsdale. She’s a much smaller woman and I adjusted the camera a bit to take in more of the panel and less of her. But I also made the fatal error of using the camera’s “loop” mode to avoid capturing lots of boring stuff. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand how loop mode really worked, so when I thought I was turning it on and tagging the video, I was really turning it off. I didn’t capture any video at all.

Sheesh. Am I a loser or what?

Today’s Plan

Clamp1For today’s flight to Sky Harbor, I made some changes to the mounting setup. I’d ordered a special mounting clamp from the V.I.O. people and it arrived on Wednesday afternoon. It would give me more flexibility in where I could mount the camera.

There are two places I had in mind. The first was inside the cockpit bubble, at the front passenger’s feet. There’s a ridge there at the very bottom of the bubble and I’m pretty sure I can use the clamp and the 12-in. flexible mount I also bought to mount the camera inside, pointing out. The drawback of that location, of course, is glare. An additional drawback is the position of the recorder box and the difficulties I’d have attaching audio to it. (I can’t have any wires hanging loose around the critical areas near my flight controls.)

POV Camera on VentThe second place I had in mind was where I actually attached it: on the vent opening for the pilot’s door. This mount, which is shown here in the photos I took with my Treo yesterday, has the camera head outside, pointing slightly to the right and slightly down. The rest of the unit is inside, fastened to the helicopter’s airframe. I have all wires securely attached to various things that’ll keep them away from my controls. And I wrapped the camera and mount with red electrical tape, which is somewhat elastic and easier to remove than duct tape. I showed the setup to Ed and he agreed that the camera was not likely to come loose during flight.

Today will be an important test. If I can get the camera to work well from this position and not screw up using the controls, I’ll have some really interesting video. And if the mount and tape hold properly, it might be a good location for future installations.

To Las Vegas on Sunday

We’ll be flying to Las Vegas on Sunday. My planned route will take us over some very boring desert to Lake Havasu City. From there, we’ll fly up the Colorado River, past Topock, Bullhead City and Laughlin, Lake Mohave, Black Canyon, the Boulder Dam, and Lake Mead before turning west and flying right down Tropicana Boulevard to McCarran Airport. It’s one of my favorite flights and I’m eager to get the “good parts” on video.

So cross your fingers for me. I need to get some good shots soon.

Getting Wide

I play around with my new fisheye lens.

With my helicopter in the shop for some routine maintenance — can you believe I flew 100 hours in the past three months? — Mike and I decided to spend the weekend at our vacation place at Howard Mesa. The shed needed to be winterized and Mike wanted to replace the PVC plumbing (which cracked twice last winter) with real copper pipes.

When I wasn’t holding pipes so Mike could solder them (or driving down to Williams to pick up the fitting he’d forgotten to buy), I played. I’d brought along my Nikon D80 and the two new wide angle lenses I bought for it, including the 10.5mm fisheye (equivalent to a 16mm lens on a 35mm camera). I’d gotten the fisheye lens last week and didn’t have time to try it out.

A fisheye lens offers a 180° view of whatever you point it at. This introduces all kinds of distortions into the image. It also poses special challenges to the photographer, not the least of which is to keep herself out of the photos.

I played with it a tiny bit at home, where I got confirmation of what the lens’s instruction booklet said: the built-in flash would cause vignetting.

Mike Fixes the FurnaceSo when I tried it in the shed last night, I turned the flash off. I held the camera steady for the 1/4 second shutter speed that captured this image, which shows my husband, Mike, taking a quick drink before trying to fix the furnace. In the lower part of the photo, you can see my knees (clad in my wild chili pepper pants) and the sofa I sat on. Jack the Dog was sitting between my legs, watching Mike. The shot shows 90% of the shed’s main room.

(Mike was not successful fixing the furnace last night. It got down to 55°F in the shed. In the morning, he took the darn thing apart and pulled a mouse nest out of its innards. It now works fine.)

In the morning, I went out to photograph the horses. We’d brought them with us, primarily because it’s easier to bring them along than to find someone to feed them while we’re away. It got down into the low 40s last night, but they have thick winter coats. (In fact, they feel quite cuddly and very huggable.) At about 9 AM, they were standing together in the sun, in a spot out of the mesa’s incessant wind. Jake, who is about 25, had led Cherokee to the spot. Cherokee probably didn’t know why they were standing there, but he always follows Jake’s lead. Occasionally, he’d nibble on some of the dried grass that grew in clumps all around him.

Jake and Cherokee getting wideI brought out two apple pieces, which was a bad idea. As soon as they realized I had food, they wouldn’t leave me alone. They kept nosing my camera bag and shirt and it was all I could do to keep the camera out of their reach. But finally they realized that I wasn’t an apple tree and left me alone. Then it got tough to photograph them. They wouldn’t stand still. I managed to capture this shot of Jake with Cherokee in the background.

This was a good experiment. First, the challenge was to keep my shadow out of the photo. I couldn’t shoot with the sun at my back, like I normally would. My long shadow would have made it into the photo. I had to shoot at about a 90° angle to the sun. You can see the horses’ long shadows. I think the shadow in the lower left corner might be part of mine.

Also, from this shot you’d think I was standing quite a distance from Jake. I wasn’t. He was about a foot away. And Cherokee couldn’t have been more than 2 feet from him. The lens really exaggerates distances.

And check out the horizon. It should be flat. But the closer a straight line is to the edge of the image, the more curved it is. So a relatively flat horizon becomes an exaggerated curve. Kind of cool, no?

The next thing I tried was a duplicate of one of the shots you might see among the images that appear in the Header of this site: a dead tree with my windsock in the background.

Tree experiment, fisheye lensThis first shot was taken from about 2 feet from one end of the log. There’s not much curvature at all. And yes, that’s the sun. With the fisheye lens, it’s hard to keep the sun out of photos.

Tree experiment, fisheye lensThis second shot was taken about a foot and a half from the middle of the log. It’s a bad exposure; I’m not quite sure what I did wrong here. Still not much curvature.

Tree experiment, fisheye lensThis third shot was taken 6 to 12 inches from the end of the log. I focused on the log, but because there was so much light, there’s a decent amount of depth of field. You can really see the curvature of the horizon, but can still clearly identify the horses and windsock.

Okay, so it’s not art. But it is interesting. And it’s helping me to learn how this lens “sees” my subjects.

This evening I’ll do some panoramas of the western sky right after sunset. It was outrageously beautiful last night when we arrived up here. I’m also hoping to do a long exposure of the night sky, which should be star-filled. (No clouds in sight again today.) Tomorrow, I might go down to the local “four corners” intersection and do some 360° panoramas of the view from there.

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